Tuesday, April 14, 2009

April 2009 Reviews

The following are some reviews for the albums, movies, books and plays I’ve experienced this month.  Judging by the fact that April 2009 is only halfway over and I’ve already heard/seen/read this much stuff it’s obviously been a busy month, hence the lack of blog updates.  

Jadakiss: The Last Kiss - While The Lox are pretty much universally respected (except for that first album on Bad Boy that most fans would like to forget) Jada’s been a bit enigmatic as a solo artist.  His guest verses are sick, his mixtapes are top notch, he routinely steals the spotlight from Sheek and Styles on group efforts and he has all the makings of a star, however his solo albums always seem to fall short of expectations.  2001’s “Kiss The Game Goodbye” was solid, but hampered by scattered production, an over-emphasis on radio-friendly tracks, inclusion of too much filler that should have been used on mixtapes and an overall lack of focus that prevented it from attaining classic status.  Similarly, 2004’s “Kiss of Death” was not bad, but did not reflect the quality of work Jada was attaining on mixtapes like “The Champ Is Here” or on collaborations like Ja Rule’s “New York.”  

Jadakiss’s 2009 effort, “The Last Kiss” (notice the pattern forming?) is his first on Def Jam and Kiss uses his new label’s industry muscle to attain a myriad of guest appearances from artists as diverse as Young Jeezy and Lil’ Wayne to Mary J. Blige in an effort to appeal to the widest demographic possible.  The biggest problem with this “Jadakiss Record” is an overall lack of “Jadakiss,” there are only two songs listed as true solo tracks, with the rest overpowered by high profile guest appearances and big name producers.  When discussing this album with my friend Don we kept referring to songs as “the one with Ne-Yo” or “the Swizz Beats track” as a testament to just how little impact Jada has on his own album.  Further, there is a such a focus on the “106 & Park” crowd (aka commercial radio and teeny boppers) that there is nearly no inclusion of the “street joints” that made The Lox into stars and prompted fans to wear “Free The Lox” T-Shirts at the turn of the century.  

While nothing on “The Last Kiss” is bad, most of it is not memorable.  The album opens with “Pain and Torture” (obviously one of my favorites) and gets off to a good start, but quickly degenerates into countless guest appearances, club songs and numerous mentions of “one for the ladies.”  His attempt to recreate the magic of his 2004 hit “Why?” is called “What If?” and features Nas this time around, and it’s OK...that’s it, not groundbreaking, but not bad, the kind of song that if it came on your iPod shuffle you wouldn’t skip it, but you also wouldn’t cycle through all your Jada songs to get to.  Similarly, his take on his trials and tribulations within the music industry “Things I’ve Been Through” uses a Luther Vandross sample to help tell his rise to stardom, but it doesn’t shed any new light on a saga that is well known to even casual rap fans.  

The album contains the obligatory Lox “reunion” tracks and this time they pretty much fall flat.  “One More Step” features Styles an Kiss trading bars ala Run-DMC (with references to Adidas and rocking shows replaced with drugs, violence and prison).  Every time I hear Jada and P do this and exclude Sheek I wonder if the conversation went something like this:

Jada: P, you ready?

Styles: I got my verse, let’s go!

Sheek: I’m ready, too

Jada: Yeah, about that...

Sheek: Oh, come on! You guys always leave me out!  I had a smash last year (“Good Love”) and I wasn’t the one that dragged my D-Block chain down my block on youtube...you’re trippin’

Jada: Look, I got another track you can be on at the end of the album, it’s like number 18 or 19, but it might actually be a bonus track or the B-Side to a single

Sheek: An ‘effin B-Side, man MFer’s ain’t bought singles with B-Sides since we was wearing shiny suits! And track 18? You mean that sh*tty remix with Jeezy’s cousins is going before me? You must be up out your mind!

Overall, “The Last Kiss” is pretty solid.  It’s not great, but in a year with a very few Hip-Hop releases to get excited about (I’m actually psyched for Kid Cudi, Charles Hamilton and Asher Roth because there’s so little out there), this album provides a good listen for the early spring and will keep you entertained until Eminem drops next month.  

Observe & Report: This movie is a little disturbing, mean spirited and absolutely hilarious.  Seth Rogen plays a clinically depressed mall security guard with an alcoholic mother, no idea how to deal with women and a love/hate relationship with the police.  The movie centers on Rogen trying to catch a flasher at the mall while courting a department store cosmetics girl, played to alcoholic/slutty perfection by Anna Faris.  This movie contains full frontal male nudity, copious drug use, the most unsettling date/sex scene I’ve ever seen in a comedy and absurd amounts of violence with security flashlights.  This movie is different from just about anything else out there and while it will not appeal to everybody, to those that “get it” it will be a classic in the same vein as “The Big Labowski,” “Quick Change” and “Bottle Rocket.” 

My Losing Season by Pat Conroy:  This book came to my highly recommended and while it didn’t live up to the high praise, it was not bad.  The book tells the story of author Pat Conroy’s (“The Prince Of Tides” “Beach Music”) final basketball season at the Citadel in the mid-60’s.  There are a few things that are abundantly clear in first 25 pages: Conroy hates his abusive father, hates the military, hates his basketball coach, hates the Citadel, has a terrible relationship with women, and is in a constant battle with depression, but loves basketball and “the writing life.”  While the author’s life is interesting, he largely comes off as a whiner that blames his family, his school and his coaches for ruining him emotionally and then reunites with these people in the last chapter only to forgive them all and espouse, at length, about how much he always loved them, with almost no explanation as to what spurred this drastic change of heart.  

The most distinctive part of the book are the extremely detailed depictions of every basketball game of his senior year.  While there is probably too much detail about too many games the author does an impressive job making the reader fully understand the vibe of every game beyond the box score.  When telling about his team’s exploits Conroy constantly uses phrases like “gliding through the air,” “lightening quick” and “cutting through the defense.”  All of these games are described like they were as exciting as the Bulls vs. Lakers in the 1991 NBA Finals, first of all it’s hard to imagine a game between the Citadel and Davidson in November is that exciting, it must be recognized that these games took place in the 1960’s, when college basketball was dominated by skinny, pasty white guys in short-shorts and Chuck Taylor’s that shot free throws underhanded.  When watching games from this era on TV it appears as if the players are moving in slow motion, so to say Conroy’s recollections are slightly embellished would be an understatement. 

“My Losing Season” is not bad and a good break from the typical formulaic sports book where a lovable group of losers band together to beat a much tougher opponent, like just about all other sports books and movies.  

Jersey Boys: I have only attended two Broadway plays in my life, about five years ago I saw “A Raisin In the Sun” (mainly because Puff Daddy was in it and heard it was about people struggling and I am such a hater that I was instantly drawn to it) and Jersey Boys a few days ago.  The play tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and their rise from Belleville, NJ to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  The story is pretty interesting, the characters are mostly portrayed as fully realized individuals (something I’m assuming is rare in musicals) and the musical numbers are awesome.  My family has been raving about this play for years and I always assumed they were enamored with it because they were Italian and from Belleville, but I am not from Belleville and Amber De Leggas is not Italian and we both had a great time.  I am not sure if I will continue to see Broadway plays, but this was a good start and I definitely would not mind seeing more like this.  

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